NBA AM: Hornets Staying With The Plan
Hornets Like Their Situation: The New Orleans Hornets have won six of their last ten games, including four straight before dropping one to the New York Knicks yesterday. The Hornets have recently gotten Eric Gordon back into the lineup and the dynamic of the team has changed pretty dramatically.
Hornets’ General Manager Dell Demps has finally been able to see what his team was supposed to look like coming into training camp now that the bulk of his roster is healthy and playing together. Evaluating this squad is still somewhat tough because of the small sample size, but now there is something to really talk about in New Orleans.
“It’s hard to right now because we just got healthy and to get a true evaluation,” Demps said to HOOPSWORLD. “You want to see them healthy for a number of games. I don’t think we’ve had a big enough sample for right now to give a true evaluation of everybody right now. I think we’re going to need another 10-15 games because we got a lot of guys playing who weren’t completely healthy so we want to see how the group meshes together.”
The Hornets have had several make shift lineups as they have endured injuries across the board this season, which has given some guys more opportunity than maybe originally planned.
“It’s interesting because guys have gotten opportunities to do a little more,” said Demps. “The whole key is playing together and how we are as a collective unit and not individually.
“When we were putting this together we wanted to see how it would look with different combinations out on the court and now we’re starting to see that. I think we’ll evaluate it over the next couple weeks, but so far it’s looking good.”
There is almost no question that the return of Gordon has changed how the Hornets play. His impact and influence on virtually every player on the floor is noticeable.
“He’s a dynamic player that brings a lot and it’s not just his scoring,” said Demps. “The outside eye would think that it’s just scoring, but he does so much; so many things. He can have an off-shooting night and still help us win. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his defense; he’s a very good on-ball defender and he’s also a very smart player. Some of things he does on the court, the craftiness, the decision-making, the early work I don’t think he gets enough credit for.”
The Hornets matched a free-agent contract offer from Phoenix this summer, locking the oft-injured Gordon into a four-year deal worth $58 million.
“It’s there,” Demps said of Gordon’s injury history. “You hope for the best. I don’t know how else to answer that. You hope the guy is healthy. Most of the top teams are healthy, so we’re hoping for him to be healthy.
“He’s only had one surgery, so we hope he will be healthy. He’s done a good job in his rehab and in his work now. He has a really good regiment that he’s doing now and we’ve had a lot of people working with him and talking to him. He’s also a very smart guy, so we’re hoping that the program he’s on now will give him sustained good health.”
Gordon has missed 137 games in his five NBA seasons, leading some to question whether Gordon’s injuries are durability related or conditioning related. Demps says he doesn’t think teaching Gordon is the issue.
“He’s gone out of his way to take care of his body,” explained Demps. “He hired his own personal trainer. I think he understands the importance of taking care of his body and his long-term health. I think he’s understood that from a young age. From the day he arrived in New Orleans, he talked about some of the things he did with his body. This was really his first knee injury. [Eric], his circle of people and our group did a lot of research for the best things for him moving forward. I think he definitely understands the importance of taking care of his body.”
The Hornets came into the season with two top ten draft picks in Anthony Davis, the number one overall pick, and prized scoring guard Austin Rivers. Davis’ game has translated well to the NBA, where Rivers is on course for one of the worst rookie seasons of a first round pick.
Demps says he’s not as concerned about Rivers as maybe some others are because of what he sees from Rivers in practice and in his contributions outside the box score.
“He is fighting,” Demps said of Rivers. “I think of Austin as fighting and doing the best he can and working with the coaches. Rookies are going to have their ups and downs. We hope that he can figure out the NBA game and find his niche. What works and what doesn’t work and what can he do to help the team.
“The thing I will say about him is that he’s competes. Some nights he’s not making shots, but his dribble penetration is creating shots for other guys. Sometimes he’ll draw three or four guys, he’ll shoot it and misses it, but somebody else was able to grab the weak side rebound, so sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t look as good as his production. The thing is I see him before practice working, after practice working. He hasn’t given up and he’s fighting and he’s trying and it’s his rookie season.
While Davis did miss some games to injury, his rookie season has gone pretty well for the Hornets.
“Anthony, I think he’s figured some things out,” said Demps. “He’s learning the league right now. He’s had some really, really high moments, he’s had some moments where he was like ‘Whoa, this is the NBA.’”
After first glance is seems the Hornets found what they were looking for in Davis, but maybe not as much in Rivers, although Demps believes it’s a little early to judge either player.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to judge drafts and judge guys,” explained Demps. “I think it’s hard to do that after 30 games. I think you really don’t know for a couple of years.
“There’s been so many players that have struggled their rookie year. Jermaine O’Neal is a great example. He didn’t play much his first couple of years in the league. Another guy I think about is J.J. Barea when he first came into the league. Even Kevin Martin didn’t play much his rookie year. I think sometimes guys take a little time. Another thing is that guys are coming in so much younger now. I was watching the D-League and a lot of guys that teams have given up on are 23-24 years old and they only got two years in the league and they’ve failed. I think it’s too soon to really evaluate a guy right now.”
The Hornets have started to see things turn in their favor a little more with a healthy roster. However, at 11-26 on the season the Hornets look more like sellers around the February 21st trade deadline, although Demps isn’t sold his team will be very active.
“It’s part of the business,” Demps said of the trade deadline. “I think we’ll listen. If there’s something out there that will make us significantly better for the long-term I think we’ll look at it. Actually, I like our group. I like our young guys. I want to really evaluate them over the next month playing together and see that chemistry there. For the last week or so I think we’ve been playing pretty good, we’ll see how it goes over the next few games.”
The Hornets are not mathematically out of the playoff hunt, but it would take a pretty impressive 2nd half surge for them to climb out of the Western Conference cellar.
It typically takes at least 45 wins to make the 8th seed in the West, which means the Hornets would have to go 34-9 down the stretch. So the Hornets should know a lot about themselves before the February 21st trade deadline, as nine more losses basically puts a fork in their season.
Derrick Williams Getting His Chance: Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams is getting the chance he’s long hoped for. The chance to start in the NBA and prove that he’s worth the second overall pick the Timberwolves used on him in 2012.
With forward Kevin Love out for what’s looking like the next 10 weeks, Williams is getting the chance to start games and to play big minutes.
Williams talked with HOOPSWORLD about his new situation with the Wolves.
Mavericks Are Open For Business: The Dallas Mavericks are usually a player in and around the trade deadline and this year looks to be no different.
“There’s a 100 percent chance that we’re going to try to do something,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.
Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki recently questioned the Mavs decision to put all their free agent eggs in the Dwight Howard/Deron Williams basket; however Cuban says that’s not the case.
“Despite what you guys think – and what Dirk says – it’s not like we put all our eggs in one basket,” Cuban said. “We put all our eggs in all baskets, wherever the opportunities come. One of the reasons you take a step back salary-wise is so that you can take on salary (in trades), so it’s not about just the free agents.
“Hopefully that will play to our advantage because (teams) can’t avoid looking at trades. But I don’t have a preference one way or the other. I’m not going to do a trade just to do a trade, even if it’s a star. … It’s hard to find just one guy who puts you over the top. It has to be somebody who gets us to the point where we could get back on track to where we want to be.”
One player that the Mavericks simply won’t entertain moving is Nowitzki, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, which would allow him to veto any deal regardless.
“I just wanted to make clear to him that we’re in this through thick and thin,” Cuban said. “So there’s no way that I’d trade him, no matter what.”
The Maverick do have several attractive ending contracts and lots of moveable pieces that fit into the new NBA economy.
The Mavs have historically been deadline dealers, and with the team sitting at 15-23 on the season they are as motivated as ever to make a deal.
Wolves Are In The Trenches: It’s hard to win in the NBA without your best player. For the Minnesota Timberwolves they opened the season without star guard Ricky Rubio and have now lost Kevin Love to a broken hand twice, with the latest break requiring surgery that will shelve him for maybe 10 weeks.
Rubio is back on the floor, with minute restrictions, but replacing the double-double Kevin Love is good for each night has been tough.
Wolves’ guard Luke Ridnour has really stepped up his game this season, and says that’s been the case for most of the team as managing injuries and a depleted roster has been a season long battle.
“The good thing is we’ve kind of had it a lot this year,” Ridnour told HOOPSWORLD. “Guys are used to it. We just got to find ways to still compete. We’ve been able to win some games just by mixing up the lineup, playing different guys at different positions. Everyone just has to step up and play a little bit better.
“You just got to come together because this is all you got. The NBA doesn’t stop for teams who get hurt, you still have to find a way to stay competitive and for us we’re trying to make the playoffs. This is a big stretch here in January for us to try and stay in it.”
The fact that the Wolves have been so thin all year has created some confidence with the Wolves players, especially some of the guys who may not have had such a pronounced role if everyone was healthy.
“Everybody just knows you’re going to play so you got to be ready to go,” said Ridnour. “Alexey (Shved) is a rookie, but he knows he’s going to play. He’s played really well. I think everybody has, like I said, when guys go out you have to step up. You’re going to get more opportunity, play bigger minutes and you got to make the most of it.”
Despite missing so much of their roster, the Wolves continue to be scrappy and are hanging around the Western Conference playoff picture, mainly because their young guys in Alexy Shved and Derrick Williams have stepped up.
“These guys are really talented,” said Ridnour. “Alexey and Derrick are guys that can really make plays. Alexey has done it all year. Being able to see what they can do gives you confidence that you know they can make plays. Everybody here wants to win and they’re doing the right things to try and help us win.
“Dante (Cunningham) has done a good job coming in and bringing energy. Everybody else has stepped up and rebounded well. Everybody at their position has to do a little bit more, it’s not just one guy, it’s a multiple effort and a team effort. Hopefully, we’ll keep this going and get above .500 in a couple of games.”
The fact that Minnesota is a veteran laden team has also been a big key in enduring so many injuries.
“Yeah, it definitely does,” said Ridnour. “We have guys that have been through it, maybe not this many injuries, but similar things. AK (Andrei Kirilenko) has been great all year. I guess you could say that it’s been a team effort and needs to continue to be.”
The Timberwolves are 16-17 on the season and roughly two games out of the eight seed in the West.
With the February 21st NBA Trade Deadline just around the corner, the Timberwolves continue to be linked to trades and trade scenarios. With such a depleted roster, it’s not hard to imagine the Wolves triggering a deal, especially one that refills the roster, but with their young guys really answering the call, who are the guys that are expendable?
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